Thursday, January 29, 2015

Mitt Romney Redux?

Last evening I had the opportunity to attend a speech by the 2012 Republican presidential nominee and former governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney at Mississippi State University's Bettersworth Auditorium in Lee Hall.  Governor Romney was here as part of the Mississippi State University Global Lecture Series, which has featured prominent public servants such as General Colin Powell, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, and others in recent years.  Governor Romney spoke for about 35 minutes then settled down for a brief conversation with former Mississippi Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks to a Mississippi State University audience as part of the university's Global Lecture Series.Photo by: Beth Wynn
Romney began the speech by recounting his own college years as an English major, which according to him meant he had no idea of what he would do for a living.  That elicited a laugh from the students in attendance (and some faculty I presume).  The first fifteen minutes of the speech was dedicated to a more personal conversation that seemed much like an address one might hear at a college commencement ceremony rather than a campaign speech.  To be sure, Romney gave no indication about whether he intends to seek the Republican nomination in 2016 except to say that 'you may have heard I have been thinking about running' for president again.  Judging from the applause in the audience, he might have the support of quite a few of them if he did choose to run.

The speech turned political during the second half of the governor's address as he went directly after President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  First, Romney accused the president of being either 'naive' or 'deceptive' during his recent State of the Union address for not calling ISIS what it is...a group of Islamic Jihadists that pose a serious threat to world peace and American interests abroad.

Next, the governor went after the presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by criticizing her for pressing the 'reset' button on America's relationship with Russia.  In Romney's view this 'reset' enabled Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade and seize portions of Ukraine last year.  Of course, this conveniently ignores the fact that Putin's invasion of Ukraine took place in the middle of 2014, more than a year and a half after Secretary Clinton was replaced by former Massachusetts Senator John Kerry.  Romney went on to remark that Putin wants to reassemble the old Soviet empire by taking invading sovereign nations, which is not what great powers do.  He pointed to the enormous strength of the U.S. Military and claimed that we never use that power to invade a sovereign country.  Perhaps it slipped his mind but the U.S. did recently wrap up two wars in which we did, in fact, invade sovereign nations and topple their governments (Afghanistan and Iraq).  That is not to say those invasions were not justified...just that any discussion of the use of U.S. military power must include those events as well.

The final portion of Romney's speech involved his view on the economic situation in America.  By his own admission, the economy has improved for many Americans, especially those who are very wealthy like the governor himself.  He stated that the Obama Presidency has been very good for people like him as the stock market has reached new highs and increased the wealth of the very rich in America.  He also said that for the rich, it doesn't matter who the president is because they will always do well.  For the poor and middle class, however, the last six years have not been so good.  He intoned that the gap between the rich and the poor has grown under President Obama, which is somewhat true as the wealthy have recovered much of what they lost when the Great Recession hit in 2008.

While trying to lay this gap at the feet of the current president, however, Romney admitted that it is part of a trend that has been going on for several decades.  Yet, he claimed that 'liberal policies' were to blame and indicated that it is time to give conservative ideas a chance to work.  I could be wrong but I seem to recall that more than half of the time frame covered by the rise in the gap between the rich and the poor has been presided over by Republican Presidents and Republican Congresses.  To be fair, the governor did criticize both parties for failing to take the actions necessary to ensure a prosperous future for all Americans, though he did not go into detail about what those actions might entail.

Finally, in a rather surprising appeal, Romney indicated that it is well past time for Republicans to stop paying attention solely to the voices that are important for winning the Republican nomination and to start paying attention to those who typically view the party as hostile to their interests, minorities and the poor.  Only by doing this, Romney said, will the GOP stand a good chance to win a general election and recapture the White House.  It was, in essence, a tacit admission that the strategy he employed in 2012 to capture largely older white voters is doomed to fail in 2016 as the share of the electorate comprising that demographic continues to decline.  In 2012, Romney famously said he did not need to pay attention to the '47% of Americans who refuse to take responsibility' for their lives and just want a handout from the government.  Today, it appears, that he realizes Republicans cannot win the presidency without reaching out to at least some of those voters.  In this writer's estimation that is a positive development if the party follows through with it.

So...does this mean Governor Romney is planning to launch a campaign for the presidency again?  To be honest, I'm not sure.  What I do know is that whatever happens with the GOP over the next 18 months or so, Governor Romney wants to be a part of that conversation.  Like America (according to the governor), the Republican Party has a leadership problem today.  It is like a ship adrift with all the crew members thinking they should be captain.  The last Republican President, George W. Bush, has dropped off the face of the earth it seems, except for news of a new painting or a book praising his father every now and then.  He certainly has shown no indication that he wants to be an elder statesman for the party the way former President Bill Clinton has for the Democrats.  The elder Bush, George H.W., is in frail health at 90 years of age and unable to travel much these days.  So the party has no true leader.  It seems that Gov. Romney, as the most recent nominee for the GOP, is trying to put himself into that position.  Only time will tell just how successful he will be in that endeavor.

Overall, the evening was informative and Gov. Romney seemed very at ease discussing everything, including his loss to President Obama in 2012.  On election night in 2012, just after the networks called the race for President Obama, my wife told my then six year old daughter that Barack Obama had been reelected President of the United States.  My daughter asked, 'Momma, is Mitt Romney sad"?  Judging from his speech last night and the ease of which he spoke about the 2012 campaign I'd have to say 'no, he appears to be doing just fine.'

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Invisible Primary & Scott Walker

Every four years the time comes when political scientists around the United States become like little children on Christmas morning anticipating opening their gifts to find out what is inside.  They rush to their offices, fire up their Macs (if they're anything like me), and begin exploring the day's happenings in the political world.  Of particular interest for folks like me this time of year is what we refer to as 'The Invisible Primary.'  The phrase refers to that period of time between the announcement of an intention to seek the presidency and the first votes being cast in the Iowa Caucuses, which typically occur in January of the following year.  Most of this time is spent by potential nominees courting party elites and well-heeled donors in an effort to raise the $50 million or so necessary to be competitive during primary season.

The 2015 invisible primary is well under way following the announcement by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush that he intends to 'explore' a run for the presidency.  Bush's announcement caught some of the potential GOP candidates off guard and potentially provided the governor with a head start over his rivals.  This set off a scramble among other potential candidates to hire talented individuals who could help them raise money and test the waters.  Shortly after Bush jumped into the race Mike Huckabee walked away from a lucrative deal at Fox News to explore a possible candidacy.  Others in the GOP all but certain to run include Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, and Rick Santorum.  Rumors of another run by Mitt Romney are sort of like the stories regarding the exaggeration of the death of Mark Twain.  It makes for good political fodder but it just makes no sense at all.  His time came and went and the party has moved on.

The challenge for each of the potential candidates is to figure out where their political support is most likely to come from and lock up that support over the next 11 months.  Political Scientist Jason McDaniel does an excellent job laying out the case for one of these candidates, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, in his latest post at Mischiefs of Faction.  McDaniel also created the following Venn Diagram to show the political space occupied by each of the potential candidates for the GOP, which is another way of saying where each is most likely to find the greatest level of support.  If a candidate appears in more than one of the circles, he likely has appeal to two or more factions within the GOP, thus making him more 'viable' to party elites and important donors.  Candidates who appear in only one circle have limited appeal outside their own circle and will likely struggle to win the nomination. This isn't to say they cannot win it, just that it is highly unlikely because such a candidate will have a hard time raising the kind of financial support necessary to make a serious run at the nomination.  In 2012 we saw this happen to candidates such as Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and Tim Pawlenty.  I would go so far as to argue that even Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich were not truly viable candidates in 2012, though they got to hang around due to the support each received from a wealthy donor.

Back to Scott Walker.  McDaniel's analysis makes sense on some level since the 2016 race for the GOP nomination seems to lack a clear frontrunner.  Could Walker win the nomination?  If so, he would be the first major party nominee since Harry Truman in 1948 without at least a bachelor's degree.  Even so, some have argued that Walker is well situated since he has won three elections (including the misguided recall attempt) in a state that has reliably supported the Democratic candidate for president since 1988.  Yet, one aspect of Walker's three victories is rarely discussed.  Each of them occurred with a midterm electorate that is typically older, whiter, and more conservative than that seen in a presidential election.  That may suit him fine in seeking the GOP nomination, which will look in many ways a lot like the electorate he faced in Wisconsin.  The biggest challenge for Walker may not be his appeal to the GOP base, rather it will be his lack of name recognition.  If he can overcome that obstacle he has a slight chance of securing the nomination.  He can win Iowa with its historic tendency to back evangelical candidates but New Hampshire and heavily unionized Nevada may pose serious problems.  The good news for Gov. Walker?  If he lasts until the proposed SEC primary in the southern states in early March, he could rack up a lot of delegates in a hurry.